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Branstad wants elected officials to lead by paying 20 percent of health costs

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday he would like to see elected officials in Iowa “lead by example” by paying for 20 percent of the cost of their state-provided health insurance coverage.

“I think that would make a lot of sense to require that for elected officials and legislators,” the governor told reporters after Friday’s taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” show.

Branstad said most private-sector employees pay at least a 20 percent share of their overall health insurance benefit, while people who are switching or are in between jobs, farmers and other self-employed Iowans pay 100 percent of their health care costs.

On Thursday, legislative Republicans issued their fiscal 2013 budget targets, which included a plan to save nearly $43 million by requiring all roughly 45,000 state employees and nearly 160 elected officials and legislators to contribute $200 per month for their health-insurance coverage under the state’s single or family plans. However, they conceded the proposal might stall if unionized state workers refused to reopen the current collective bargaining agreement that runs through June 30, 2013, to renegotiate health-insurance benefits.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said legislative Republicans would like to see a change accomplished this year, but he added “the most plausible scenario” would be that such a requirement probably couldn’t take effect until at least July 1, 2013.

Branstad said he supports that change and would like to see the provision for elected officials proceed this session, even if the proposal to apply a charge for health insurance to all state employees stalls during budget negotiations with Republicans who control the Iowa House, 60-40, and Democrats who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate.

“I understand what their goal is and I understand that they would love to see this accomplished, and I would to. But I think, if it appears as we go on through the session that it’s not something that can be accomplished, then we ought to at least lead by example,” the governor told reporters.

“I do think it would make sense for those of us that are elected officials and legislators to pay at least 20 percent of our health insurance. I think we could lead my example by doing something like that,” he added. “Frankly, if we want to be the healthiest state in the nation, we can’t have 84 percent of our state employees paying nothing towards their health insurance. People need to have some skin in the game. They need to take ownership of their own health. So this is something we definitely need to address.”

Last October, the Iowa Executive Council voted to renew the state’s group insurance contract with Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield that calls for the state to pay $366.87 million next fiscal year compared to the current cost of $355.2 million to cover its unionized and non-contract employees. Under the agreement, that state contribution increased by about 3.6 percent — from $333.4 million this year to nearly $345.6 million while the employee contribution is slated to decline by 2.1 percent to $21.3 million next year.

Under the two-year collective bargaining agreement with unionized state employees that took effect July 1, 2011, the state share will continue to be an 85 percent/15 percent split of the family health insurance premium costs, while the state will continue to pay 100 percent of single and double (employee plus spouse) contracts.

Branstad has been critical of the previous Culver administration officials because they accepted the state employee unions’ initial contract offer in November 2010 without negotiations. Branstad has tried unsuccessfully to persuade state unionized workers to reopen contract talks, with an eye on freezing wages and requiring employees to pay a greater share of their health insurance benefits.

During the IPTV taping, Branstad said former state legislator Bill Schickel is his choice to succeed Matt Strawn as chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. “I think he would be ideal,” the governor said.

Schickel is a Mason City Republican who has served as a mayor and currently is vice chairman of the Iowa GOP. He is slated to take over as interim party leader when Strawn steps down later this month.

Branstad called Schickel an experienced party leader who is “ready to step in” and he would be the governor’s recommendation to state GOP central committee when they select Strawn’s replacement later this year.

Branstad praised Strawn’s work as party leader, saying GOP voter registrations are on the rise, the party has been successful in raising money, and his leadership was vital in the party winning the governorship, Secretary of State’s Office and control of the Iowa House n the 2010 general election.

On another topic, Branstad dodged questions about whether he planned to seek an unprecedented six term of governor in 2014.

“I don’t know,” he told reporters. “We’ll make that decision come 2014. That’s a long time off. We haven’t made that decision.”

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